Focus on making disciples, not promoting programs, Platt says at SBTS Great Commission Lectures

Communications Staff — September 9, 2008

To advance the Gospel and fulfill the Great Commission, church leaders must focus on making disciples, not advancing programs or tallying statistics, said David Platt during the first ever Great Commission Lectures at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Sept. 2-4.

Platt, the lead pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., said churches and church staffs must orient their lives and ministries not around programs, but around knowing and proclaiming Christ.

“Biblically, the goal of every Christian and every church is to know and become like Christ,” said Platt, whose church is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

“When you ask a pastor to describe his vision and we say things like, ‘my vision is to have this many hundred or this many thousand people in church, or to have this many buildings,’ when we say things like that we show that somewhere along the way we have lost our pursuit of Christ in the pursuit of stuff and the church. Christ should be our vision.

“One of the greatest challenges that I, and the staff that I lead, face is trying to reorient our thinking: the purpose of the staff is not to plan events or to provide services. The purpose of the staff, of church leaders, is to equip people, to build people, to love Christ and proclaim the glory of Christ to the nations.”

Platt spoke in two chapel services and several classes, and also delivered a midweek lecture where he presented his church’s approach to making disciples.

At the second chapel service, Sept. 4, Platt examined the authority of Christ in the Great Commission. After a passionate recitation of Romans 1-8 from memory, Platt said the first five verses of Romans 9 — where Paul says he would be cut off from Christ if it would cause unbelieving Jews to believe in Him – should challenge all Christians to do missions.

“I do not know of a passage anywhere else in Scripture that more clearly links the authority of the Word of Christ and the urgency of mission,” he said. “What Paul is showing us is that if we believe Romans 1-8, then we bear the burden of Romans 9:1-5. He is showing us that it is impossible to have Gospel theology without urgent missiology. If we don’t live urgently to accomplish the Great Commission then we have bad theology.”

Platt said the vision, mission and goal of the Church at Brook Hills could be summed up in the phrase: “We glorify Christ by making disciples of all nations.” Platt said the vision is to glorify Christ, the mission is to make disciples and the goal is to carry out this vision and mission in all nations.

Platt said in our rush to build colleges, universities and seminaries, our push to erect hospitals, shelters and church buildings and even our desire to organize Sunday School or a convention, we must be careful to not lose focus on Jesus’s command to make disciples.

“Do we realize that it is possible for you in this room to go to seminary and be a pastor for 40 years and never make a disciple of Jesus Christ?” he asked. “I believe it is possible to go overseas with the International Mission Board and never make a disciple. We are tempted to do everything except the one thing Jesus commanded us to do in the Great Commission (make disciples). All of these things only have meaning in so much as they fuel the command of Christ in our lives and in our churches.”

Instead of emphasizing programs, we must prioritize relationships with people, Platt said, following the model of Christ. Each year, Platt said he disciples four men with the expectation that they will go out and do the same the following year.

“You listen to the way we talk about growing churches, the way we throw around numbers or statistics. Then compare that with Jesus,” Platt said. “Whenever the crowds got big what would Jesus do? He would talk about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. What was He doing? Why was He turning away the crowds? Because Jesus was spending more time with His disciples than all the other people in the world put together. Did that mean He didn’t care about the masses: No. Jesus devoted Himself to a few men around Him so that the masses might be saved.”

Platt said church leaders must train their members to submit to — and be ready to share — the Gospel in every area of their lives.

“We equip people to be both Gospel living and Gospel sharing,” he said. “I want the people that I lead to see how the Gospel is woven into the fabric of their being. To have every facet of their lives affected by the Gospel. When they see that, they will see how the details of their lives can become a platform for sharing the Gospel on a continual basis.”

At the first chapel service, Sept. 2, Platt highlighted the presence of Christ in the Great Commission. Platt focused on the necessity of relying on the Holy Spirit in missions and church ministry efforts.

“It is dangerously possible to carry on with the means and programs and the church and do them all smoothly and even be successful in our church culture and in the end get there and realize we have done it all and the Holy Spirit has been absent from the entire process,” he said.

“‘We don’t have to fast and pray for the church to grow, we can market for that to happen,’ we tell ourselves. ‘We don’t have to pray to bring the crowds in, we’ve got publicity for that.’ We have been deadly mistaken, deceiving ourselves, mistaking the presence of physical bodies in a building for the existence of spiritual life in the church.”

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